Imperfect Endings.

Tali had loved butterflies.

It was childish, loving butterflies- too sweet, too naive. But Ziva could not fault her sister. It was not easy to be sweet or naive in their world, so let Tali love her butterflies. Let Tali paint them on the walls of her room so she could look at them while she daydreamed about someday being someone's mother. Let Tali catch them in nets to get a better look before setting them free. Let her look them up in her picture books to learn more as she chattered on about how someday she'd teach her students to do the same...someday, when she was someone's teacher.

It was a butterfly that made her stop, made her fall to the ground. On that day, Ziva was supposed to meet her sister for tea. On that day, Ziva had run into an old friend from school on the street. She had stopped to exchange pleasantries. It had taken moments. It had made her late. Then there was an explosion, and everyone was running away, but she couldn't stop herself from running toward.

In the chaos, there was a butterfly. A small, silver butterfly, dangling from a delicate chain on her baby sister's arm. She knew it well- she had been the one to give it to her. For her sixteenth birthday. There wouldn't be a seventeenth.

Ziva reached for her sister's body in the sweet, naive hope that she could save her. Her mind refusing, for just a moment, to acknowledge what it was seeing- that her sister's body was no longer intact. A few yards away, in the midst of the fire and debris and terrified people, lay her sister's head.

And she thought what a strange world it was that allowed a head to be blown away while a bracelet remained intact. That, and that Tali David was supposed to be a teacher.

oOo

Ari had feared butterflies.

Which was ridiculous, really. What kind of thing is a butterfly for a big brother to fear? Still, Ziva could not begrudge him this. Fearing such a silly thing was a luxury in their world, so let Ari have his phobia. Let him shriek and run whenever Tali chased him with one of her nets. Let him panic at the sight of something fragile, something beautiful. It allowed her to tease him, her older brother of whom she was usually in awe. It allowed her to pause in her attempts to be like him in order to shout, "How will you be someone's doctor someday, if you cannot even bear a tiny little butterfly?"

He would answer that one had nothing to do with the other, and he would ruffle her hair.

It had been butterflies that had convinced her. When the Americans were saying things she did not want to hear, and she was beginning to have doubts, she would stop herself with the thought that a traitor and murderer would never fear something as inconsequential as a butterfly.

She had to see for herself that one had nothing to do with the other.

She put a bullet through his forehead; it was the right thing to do. But before he had become a villain, her brother had been her hero, and all she could think was that Ari Haswari was supposed to be a doctor.

oOo

Tony had never expressed strong feelings about butterflies one way or another.

That was the thought that ran through her head when it happened, and it brought her comfort.

They had been on their way to a bar. They weren't celebrating. They weren't mourning. They were simply hoping to take advantage of a two-for-one special. The activity was ordinary to the point of being mundane. Ziva had offered to drive. Palmer, McGee and Abby did not object. Tony had insisted upon driving himself, citing his lack of a death wish.

How ironic.

She made it safely under the green light. He should have too, except for the SUV that chose not to stop for red. It plowed right through her partner's mustang, and the sight of Tony flying out the windshield had her stopping her car in its tracks.

Everyone was moving. Palmer was acting as a doctor should. McGee was making frantic phone calls. Abby was pacing, fretting. Ziva was making sure Tony still had his head.

All the pieces were still there, but badly mangled, and she could not do this again. Not with him.

Palmer was applying pressure, and he shouted to Ziva to keep him talking. And it was funny, the idea that anyone might stop Tony from talking. Funny, until she realized that Palmer's order meant he was still conscious somehow...and that she should keep him that way.

Shoving away memories of butterflies and all those other endings, she knelt by her partner's (still intact!) head. "Do not die," she stated firmly, for she had always thought it best to start with a command.

"May not...be...able to...help...it." His words were labored. They made her desperate.

Palmer shot her another look, telling her to do her job. McGee was shouting their location into a phone, and Abby was ordering someone to do something.

"Tony, you must not die. I cannot have you stealing my lightening."

"Thunder." And her heart leapt, because he would not correct her if he were dying.

She silenced the voice that told her that one may not have anything to do with the other.

"Yes, thunder, same thing. I am supposed to be the one to die first. I am supposed to get the dramatic death scene. So you cannot do this."

"D-don't say things...like...that."

"I am a very morbid woman Tony. I learned it from Abby."

"Zi-" His eyes started to close, and she slapped his face lightly. His eyes flew open, and she spoke frantically.

"I even have my last words planned. Do you not want to hear them?"

"Tell me."

She made herself smile. "I will say, 'Tony, I have seen this movie before.' And you will laugh, and then I will die."

"W-won't laugh."

His voice was getting weaker, and she needed to keep him awake, and why was the ambulance not here yet? "You will. If I say that, you will laugh. You will not be able to help yourself, and the last thing I will see will be someone smiling. Do not ruin this for me, DiNozzo."

"But i-it's...my...line."

And she was laughing now, but also crying. "I plan to steal it," she told him softly. There was so much blood, but he couldn't leave yet. Not when she had yet to learn his thoughts on butterflies. Not when they were still waiting for their chance.

"So...y-y-you...want your...l-last wor-words...to be to...m-m-me." And he winked at her. Or tried.

So she forced herself to believe he would be okay. Because there were finally sirens coming their way, and she had kept him talking, and he had tried to wink at her.

And because Tony DiNozzo was supposed to be the one.